Purple may be the next gold standard for nutrition, thanks to a pint-sized potato developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and three Northwest universities.

Known as Purple Pellise, it is a dark purple-skinned fingerling with dark purple flesh that will be grown organically and sold in niche markets.

Klamath Basin Fresh Direct, an association of potato farmers along the Oregon-California border, has been awarded exclusive rights to grow and market the new variety.

Dan Chin, chairman of the association, says his company was interested in the new release to expand the color spectrum of potatoes it already offers. They include a red-skinned one and a small, white-skinned variety.

"Right now there's not a good purple fingering on the market," Chin said in a news release. "But this one has good flavor and looks good. It fits the bill for what we think a consumer might want."

Purple Pellise has a three times greater potential to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals compared with the Russet Burbank, according to a study by Shelley Jansky, a USDA research geneticist.

The actual antioxidant potential depends on where the potato is grown and that season's growing conditions.

The health benefits come from anthocyanin pigments and vitamin C. Anthocyanins cause the purple color and aren't found in brown-skinned, white-fleshed potatoes.

Specialty potatoes make up about 10 percent of the potatoes in development in Oregon State University's breeding program, says university potato breeder Isabel Vales. Russets make up most of the remainder. She expects U.S. demand for specialty potatoes to increase.

Vales says the tri-state program plans to make public a red-skinned, red-fleshed fingerling and a yellow-skinned, yellow-fleshed round variety by the beginning of next year.

The other universities involved in the tri-state breeding program are Washington State University and the University of Idaho.